chapter  VII
12 Pages


The greatest event of the tenth and eleventh centuries was a reform movement, which began as an attempt to co-ordinate and reform the monasteries, and ended by remedying many abuses connected with the life of the secular clergy and the laity. In he ninth and tenth centuries Europe was given over to the harrying of the heathen Vikings, or Norsemen: in England, for example, monasteries and bishops’ churches were everywhere plundered and destroyed. The Carolingian empire fared no better, and ninth century synods show that in most dioceses even bishops’ schools could not be maintained. Whereas the election of bishops, the priors or provosts of collegiate churches, and of abbots, belonged canonically to the chapter or the monks, in practice the king or some great lord appointed his own nominee. In two ways the laity had had, since the sixth century, their own canonical share in the election of bishops and the appointment of presbyters with cure of souls. The nobles shared with the cathedral clergy the deliberations preceding the choice of a bishop, and the common people signified their assent to his election, when he was presented to them, by acclamation. Moreover, the founder of a church on his estates had canonically the right of presenting a suitable candidate to the bishop to serve his church. But in the ninth and tenth

centuries the feudal nobles went far beyond their canonical rights. Kings appointed to bishoprics and abbeys, and “invested” the recipients with ring and staff, the symbols not only of the temporal possessions, but of their spiritual office; the new bishop or abbot did homage to the king, and swore fealty, like any other feudal tenant. Kings and nobles granted “benefices,” (tenure for a term of years, somtimes one or three lives), out of church lands to their servants; patrons often succeeded in treating the estates of their churches as their own, or in appropriating the tithes to their own use. The clergy were often untrained and hastily ordained: disregarding the canons, they married or lived with women. The old canonical arrangement of some preliminary years of matrimony before a late ordination to the diaconate was now impossible, as deacons might be ordained at twenty-one and priests at twenty-five. The increase of small outlying churches had made more priests necessary. In the case of married clergy there was danger that church lands would become hereditary possessions. The bishop’s office might become hereditary like that of the count. Churches were often actually left desolate, and the poor, like the clergy, were robbed of their endowment. A matricula was still maintained by some of the churches, and those enrolled on it for the reception of regular allowances were now exclusively the poor, and not the whole clergy of the church: but in these times of violence few churches had anything to distribute. Private warfare rendered the lot of the peasant, as of all but the highest clergy, a miserable one.